Phoenix: 42-27-13 / 97 points
Los Angeles: 40-27-15 / 95 points
Los Angeles: Jonathan Quick (35 wins / 1.95 GAA / 0.929 SPct), Anze Kopitar (82G / 25G / 51A / +12), Dustin Brown (82G / 22G / 32A / +18) / Drew Doughty (77G / 10G / 26A / -2)
Phoenix: Mike Smith (38 wins / 2.21 GAA / 0.930 SPct), Ray Whitney (82G / 24G / 53A / +26), Radim Vrbata (77G / 35G / 27A / +24), Keith Yandle (82G / 11G / 32A / +5)
These teams each won 3 of the 6 games they played this year, with 3 decided in extra time.
Los Angeles Wins If…
Jonathan Quick may be the best player in the league at this point. While flashing the occasional acrobatic save, he has primarily displayed an intense consistency with his unique low-to-the-ice style. He appears to have affected the confidence of the shooters he has faced and is almost willing his team to victory. If he stays in this zone, Los Angeles is a very formidable team.
The Kings are still waiting for Jeff Carter’s breakout game. With only one goal and four points in nine games his contribution has been steady but unspectacular. If he can step up, and Anze Kopitar (3 goals and 7 assists) continues his strong play, L.A. will have a one/two punch at center that Phoenix cannot match.
The Kings have a significant potential edge in the area of physical play. While Dustin Brown has received most of the attention (deservedly), Matt Greene has just been a beast, and mid season call ups Dwight King and Jordan Nolan have been very aggressive without crossing the line. Throw in Mike Richards, Drew Doughty and Willie Mitchell, and Phoenix is out gunned in this area.
Phoenix Wins If…
Mike Smith is playing at a very high level, with only a couple of puck handling misadventures to sully his record. He must match Quick’s consistency and cannot give up an unearned error to the Kings. He loves to roam, and his coaches have allowed him considerable freedom in this area. If he can neutralize L.A.’s ability to dump and chase, the Coyotes will have a big advantage.
Phoenix has two studs on the blue line in Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. They need to dominate the power play when given the chance, and also ignite the transition game for the smaller Coyotes. They will both have targets on their backs and must play a heady and decisive games throughout the series.
In closing, the 'Yotes have enjoyed a surprisingly strong season, highlighted by unexpectedly sensational play from Mike Smith and Radim Vrbata, among others. While Smith has been dominant, Vrbata still appears to be shaking off a late season injury and needs to return to form. Another factor could be the continued impressive play of Mikkel Boedker, a former top ten pick. He is extremely fast, very strong, and has been their best forward on many nights.
The winner is…
This series features outstanding goalies, teams that have bought into their systems, and two cities that have come alive during the playoffs. The Kings boast a bigger and more physical lineup with enough playoff experience to endure another tight series. Quick has been razor sharp, and L.A. has more offensive depth than Phoenix.
Fearless Prediction: Los Angeles in seven.